Latest reviews by Cass Gunderson

(2014)
"Rock & Roll Half Marathon"
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For a half marathon in Chicago during late July, we lucked out on weather this year. Overall, I enjoyed the race and would recommend it.

What I liked:
+ The first 6 miles have great scenery through downtown Chicago and are very fast and flat
+ Fun theme & nice shirt and medal
+ Plenty of aid stations and relatively well managed race (with the exception of the last or second to last aid station that was ran by really young kids(?) - someone else mentioned this as well. They were cute, just didn't really know what to do!)
+ Great post-race party with very well-organized vendors.
+ Easy gear check
+ Well-organized and extensive expo (though I have some gripes... that will be mentioned later). I also appreciated that they don't give you a lot of extras that you don't want or need - they keep it simple: get your bib, bag, shirt, pins & information.

Things that could improve:
- I REALLY hate that people can't pick up each other's bibs - you HAVE to be there and show your ID to receive your bib - no exceptions. It was a hassle for me and I am from Chicago so I can't imagine how other people from out of town felt. As they make this a necessity, it would be helpful if they had more extensive hours for bib pick up. It would have been SO much easier for me if my friends could have gotten mine for me. I also am a little upset that they don't have some kind of subsidized parking for the expo. I took a bus this year, but when I ran this two years ago I drove in and it was ~$25 to park for the 30-45 minutes we were there. That's a pretty steep rate. Every other race that I have been to with an expo at McCormick place gives a discounted rate for parking. Not sure why Rock and Roll doesn't negotiate this but I think it's really annoying.
- Lots of turns in the first 6 miles.
- Once you head south out of the loop (mile 7 or so?) there really is no scenery; I find the route to be pretty boring. When you head back up north, the route takes the lakeshore path for the last 3 miles - which is a really confined space for how large this race is. I'm guessing this saves a signficant amount of money to not have to close down another street for a 3 mile stretch but the extra width would be very helpful with spacing.
- Others addressed this, but quite a lack of bands along the route. Apparently this was not the fault of RNR but due to city regulations.
- I didn't really see anyone checking to make sure people were starting in their assigned corrals.

It's a big race with a fun theme in a great city. Though it's not my favorite race in Chicago, it's fairly well managed and has some good things going for it.

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(2014)
"A "mucking" good time"
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As far as I can tell, there are two types of people in this world: people who would be interested in a mud race and people who would never, ever want to do one. I am one of the former, so from my perspective this race was a blast.

If you are on the fence, there are some things you should know:
1. You will get mud... everywhere. In your ears, in your belly button, in between your toes. It's going to be a little gross. You just have to be able to deal with that fact and you'll be fine!
2. You have different preparations for a mud race: you'll want to bring towels, garbage bags, bug spray, sunscreen. It will require more cross training if you are taking the race seriously because a lot of the obstacles will demand more work out of your upper body.
3. You have to be careful. There are a lot of little rocks and grit in the mud that can scratch you, there's a lot of random pits that can twist an ankle, there are a lot of obstacles that you can hurt yourself on if you are not paying attention.
4. Bonus, though: great exfoliation for the skin! It doubles as a spa day :), right? And you will be so grateful for a shower afterwards.

Pros:
+ This race had several start times to choose from which I believe really helped with spacing. In a past mud run I did, it seemed like all the effort you gave to get to the next obstacle quickly was somewhat worthless as you often sat and waited in line behind people to complete it. There was some of this at the race, but it was very minimal due to so many groups & start times throughout the day.
+ The obstacles in the beginning are significantly easier. I don't know if they did this on purpose, but I think that also really helped space runners out.
+ This is a race most people can probably do. It is not that difficult, so if you are looking for a "tough mudder" experience, this may not be challenging enough for you. I think this obstacle race is very approachable for a large group of friends or family to do together over a great range of athleticism. You can make it a little harder if you are really pushing for a good time, but on the flip side if you find any obstacle too challenging you can always opt out and walk around it.
+ obstacles were fun and included: jumping over hay bails, army crawling through mud pits, climbing ropes, going down slides, swimming/wading through a creek, jumping barricades, running through tires, climbing ladders, making it through 2 HUGE mud pits, climbing up steep slopes
+ this particular race is set on a farm that has a creek running through it, so the race utilized the creek a lot for obstacles. The creek provided some help getting some of the mud off your body so you weren't as weighted down.
+ the course was pretty shady (I'd guess about 1/2 of it was shaded) which definitely helps for a race in mid-July.
+ I thought it was pretty well-managed, there were a good amount of water stops and people set up at different obstacles to help guide you through. Packet pick up was easy (same day, pre-race), they have some "showers" set up post-race so you can rinse off a little bit, a burger/brat, chips & a beer are included after the race (you think beer tastes good after a run? it tastes even better after a 1 hour excursion in mud).
+ There is a giant water slide at the end that is really fun to watch (and fun to do!). The attached picture is my friend and I after we went down it.

Things that could improve:
- Like I said before, it's not extremely challenging, but for most people I think that's a good thing. If you are the person that is looking for a really tough mud obstacle course, maybe look into other options with further distances
- The mud pit after mile 1 and on the way back to the finish (same pit, split going two ways) was a little extensive. It honestly took about 20 minutes of the whole race to get through that thing (10 minutes going each way). I think this race would be perfect if you only had to go through the pit once and then ended right after the water slide (and you would be a little less muddy with the water, too, making the post-race shower lines go faster).
- Races like this don't really hold people accountable for doing all the obstacles (though they claim to, but it is a really hard task for management to actually enforce), which is a good thing for some people because you shouldn't push yourself and risk injury, but it is bad for others who view this as a true competition.

Overall, I thought this mud run was really fun and I would recommend it (especially to run with a group of friends!). It definitely mixes it up from the traditional road race 5k!

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(2014)
"Big 10k, Big party"
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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again), Fleet Feet manages great races in Chicago.

Pros:
+ Easy packet pick up, easy access to race, very well organized.
+ Really loved the theme – who doesn’t love a little college rivalry? So many residents of Chicago and people from the suburbs come from Big 10 schools or have family at those schools, so people get really into it!
+ The post race party for the Big 10k is one of the best post race parties that I have ever seen.
+ The race swag is tailored to your team (or you can get a general shirt if you do not want to run representing a particular school), they give you a trucker hat after the race as well (that’s pretty fun, right?), 312 beer, and you get a delicious brat! (unsure if there was a veggie option?). Also Garrett’s popcorn and some other delicious vendors were giving out pretty generous samples. Basically, if you are a runner who loves to eat, this race delivers. They have a little stadium set up as well to hang out afterwards and listen to some music while you enjoy your beer and food amongst friends (or rivals).

Not so great:
- The route leaves something to be desired. I’ve noticed Fleet Feet races usually uses this similar route; running on the street half way down (not very scenic) and lakefront path on the way up. It also might be a personal thing, but runners had to go slightly north of the finish and then weave back around to get back to the finish line at the end of the race. Once I know I’m heading in the right direction back, it is a mean mental trick to have me pass it up and wonder when I’m going to turn around again to cross that finish line!

I had a great time though and I would recommend it to anyone who loves the Big 10 and is a runner in the city. It’s definitely a very approachable race for new runners as well.

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(2014)
"Scenic, challenging and sweaty: North Shore Classic 2014"
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This was my 6th half marathon and it was definitely my toughest - but for context, I am from Illinois and have only ran very fast and flat courses (and often in earlier spring or later fall when it isn't as hot!). Overall, I really enjoyed this race.

Pros:
+ the first 2/3 of this race are very scenic and shaded. You run by nice houses and pretty wooded areas, mainly on the street so there is a lot of room to spread out
+ the race is a little smaller in number of participants (about 2,500 this past year I'd guess for the 5k + half total, a little over 1,500 for just the half) but since the start waves are only 2 minutes apart, you never feel like you are alone/too spread out. There are also a lot of perks to smaller races, ie., short restroom lines pre-race, it seems to be ran more quickly and efficiently than bigger races I've done
+ the "swag" for the race is running shorts, which I think is a neat idea and definitely mixes it up from the usual t-shirt. They shorts come with a zipper for keys as well. The only potential downfall to a more unique item like this is that it clearly isn't for everybody (as much as a t-shirt might be). It depends on personal preference. Personally, I love the shorts and I will wear them a lot this summer!
+ this race (for Illinois) has a few more inclines than a Chicago native is used to, but personally I enjoyed the challenge. I marked elevation as a 3 because as the reviewer before me mentioned, it is pretty elevated for a midwest course but would probably be a 2 in other parts of the country.
+ well-marked mile markers and time at every mile
+ efficiently ran post-race and pre-race, good post-race snacks, great finisher medal.

Cons:
- my mom also ran the half with me, and she said by the time she got to the water stations at mile 7 1/2 and 9 1/2 (probably ~30 minutes after me) they had both run out of water. The race this year was HOT; the weather was around 80 degrees, not an ideal time for two water stations in a row to run out of water. However, she did mention they still had the sports drink option.
- the end of the course is definitely not as scenic as the first 2/3. The last few miles take you through a subdivision area that is not very well shaded for miles 9-12.
- not sure if this is something that I just didn't notice, but I only saw bathrooms around mile 2 and 8 and didn't see them anywhere else. The course map says they are at every aid/water station, so I might have missed where they were, but they weren't obvious to me.

Other things to note:
--> There is a massive hill right after mile marker 7. It's huge. It'll kick your butt. You'll go down a massive hill and see the lake and turn left, and there it will be. Waiting for you. But if you are fairly warned (which I was) you can mentally prepare for it before you get there and it'll be alright. I would have been so much more intimidated if I hadn't heard about it before it was in front of me!
--> There is no BIG post-race party or beer/beverages afterwards, if that's something you often look forward to at the end of races. I didn't mind, there is still music and a few vendors around and a lot of exhausted, happy people.

This is definitely one of the most challenging races I've done in Illinois - but I will probably be back next year to take it on again!

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(2014)
"Great Memorial Day weekend race"
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This was my first time running the Soldier Field 10-miler after hearing a lot of positive feedback about this race over the past few years. What a way to welcome spring/summer weather! Overall I had a good race experience and would run it again.

Pros:
- This race is very well managed. It is well organized and carried out - from getting your gear (a nice dry fit t-shirt and bib), to the gear check, to how efficient the process is afterwards (bonus: awesome snack bag that is reusable!). The corrals were easy to get in and spaced out well. The aid stations were well-staffed. The mile markers were well placed and easy to see, and every mile marker also had the race time included, which was very helpful.
- Different route than many Chicago races. It's definitely a nice refresher to get to run on the south side of Chicago for a change.
- Great theme and awesome that you receive a medal from someone who has served our country! I admit I did get a little choked up in the beginning (pre-race) when they were announcing stories of some of the racers who had lost loved ones overseas and taps was played. It was very inspiring to see some of the men and women in uniform that should be front-of-mind on Memorial Day weekend.
- Good distance: 10 miles is a more unique distance in the running world and is good for a lot of runners looking to have a longer distance race before a half marathon in the late spring/summer time. It's also a good distance for beginning runners that have run 5ks and 8ks in the past that are looking to push themselves a bit further.
- Fun post-race party and venue.
- Packet pickup is offered over the course of an entire week which is very convenient. It is a little less ideal if you are not a Chicago native as it is just coming in and picking up a shirt and a bib / there is no expo or anything else to come in for.

Cons:
- The first 4 miles are definitely not very scenic. The good news is that there is a lot of space because they close down a large road to run on, the bad news is that you are running on a large road heading south with not much else to look at. The route back up was on a much smaller lakefront trail but by the time you got to the turnaround (mile ~5), there is more comfortable spacing. The view going back up towards the city by the lake is much better than the first few miles!
- My mom ran the race and mentioned that after the race she was trying to get ice for her leg and she had to stop at 3 different aid areas because the first two were all out of ice. I'm not exactly sure what happened with that, but I do know the race is growing bigger every year so perhaps the aid stations were not as prepared for the volume of people.
- I'm being a little picky here, but in the very beginning on the race you go into a tunnel area that is very dark with some uneven ground. I wish there was a way to get more light in there - I kept feeling like someone was bound to fall/trip.

I was glad I decided to sign up to run the SF 10-miler this year and will most likely be there again next year!

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